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My Dark Vanessa

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  64,790 ratings  ·  10,377 reviews

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher


Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just be

Hardcover, UK, 384 pages
Published March 31st 2020 by Fourth Estate (first published March 10th 2020)
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ValeriesBooks Definitely not. It was hard to read even as an adult. The rape scenes are graphic and the narrators perspective romaticises the abuse. For a 16 year o…moreDefinitely not. It was hard to read even as an adult. The rape scenes are graphic and the narrators perspective romaticises the abuse. For a 16 year old this would be confusing and she might not recognise the abuse like an adult reader would.(less)
Kathryn Cope I felt that the lack of any other great trauma in Vanessa's life (other than falling out with her best friend) is sort of the point. There's nothing i…moreI felt that the lack of any other great trauma in Vanessa's life (other than falling out with her best friend) is sort of the point. There's nothing in her background that marks her out as a victim or makes her especially vulnerable. She's insecure, self-absorbed and searching for an identity beyond the limits of her family - but what teenager isn't? To me, this made the whole scenario more disturbing as potentially she could be any 14-year-old girl.(less)

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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  64,790 ratings  ·  10,377 reviews

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Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How do you best write about a fictional love affair between a teacher and a 15-year-old student that is actually a predatory relationship? There are no easy answers to that question but that is what happens in My Dark Vanessa which alternates between 2000 and 2017 as we see how Vanessa Wye is groomed and then raped by her teacher Jacob Strane. We see the repercussions she must deal with as an adult who does not allow herself to realize that the relationship was, in fact abusive. We see how a chi ...more
Emily May
"I think we're very similar, Nessa," he whispers. "From the way you write, I can tell you're a dark romantic like me. You like dark things."

3 1/2 stars. I really really want to give this book a higher rating, but I cannot justify it when it is almost twice as long as it needed to be.

My Dark Vanessa has many powerful moments. It's a discomfiting, horrible story about an adult woman reevaluating the relationship she had with her English teacher when she was a teenager. It is reminiscent of Th
Cindy Pham
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tragic, dark, repulsive, and infuriating, this book dives deep into the complexities of abusive relationships, grooming, and trauma. There are complicated layers that I think the author does well in putting together: the timely pop culture references to show how pervasive the culture of sexualizing young girls is; the side characters that add to the complicity of fostering that culture; the way the #MeToo movement gets co-opted by journalism and clickbait; how victimhood is encouraged and hailed ...more
Nilufer Ozmekik
Mar 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truth… I started this book so many times and after few pages, I felt suffocated, my stomach churned, sharp pain twisted my heart and I dropped it… This happened several times and I tried to
gather my wits, wear my big girl’s pants and breathe in breathe out several times deeply!

And I started again… This is most disturbing, painful, heart bleeding, psychologically consuming, complex, soul crushing, life changing story I’ve been lately read! It’s harsh, raw, realistic, provocative, brave, dark, b
Will Byrnes
Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed.
My Dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest
My Admirable butterfly! Explain
How could you, in the gloam of Lilac Lane,
Have let uncouth, hysterical John Shade
Blubber your face, and ear, and shoulder blade?

- From the poem Pale Fire by Nabakov
Vanessa Wye is thirty-two years old, working a dead-end hotel job in Portland, Maine, and attending grief-counseling therapy following the death of her father. She cannot move on with her life. I suppose many of
Typically when I finish a book, the best case scenario is that I jot down a few notes for the future me who is desperately trying to alchemize fading-away thoughts into a review.

These helpful and compelling insights include phrases like “beautiful writing.” “I don’t like the characters.” “At first this was hard to get into but then I enjoyed it.”

You know. The kind of bring-the-house-down literary criticisms that have the world’s finest book reviews and newspaper Sunday sections knocking at my d
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Melanie by: monica kim

(Thank you, William Morrow, for a finished copy!)

This was one of the hardest books I've ever read. I hope to be able to write a full review soon, but I will say that the ending might feel really heartbreaking and disappointing, but that is because we live in a heartbreaking and disappointing reality. There is no wrong way to heal and live through horrible things that were done to you, and there is no time limit either.

Youtube | Instagram | Twitter | Blog | Spotify | Twitch

Content and Trigger W
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elyse  Walters
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Year: 2000
Vanessa, 15 years of age,
grew up in a quiet small town in Maine - on
Whalesback Lake.
She attended Browick High School - a boarding school...couple hours away from her home. Too young to drive- her mother usually drove her to school and picked her back up to come home during holiday breaks.
Early in the book I wondered if Vanessa’s mother had serious reasons to worry about her daughter’s basic state of well-being...or if the mother was just being a typical mom. ( “make some friends”,
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this was so hard to read but so so important. i highly recommend it if you're in the right head space/the content won't be triggering to you. can't wait to read more from kate elizabeth russell.

TW: sexual assault, rape, pedophilia, grooming, manipulation, gaslighting, victim shaming
My Dark Vanessa is a dark, deeply disturbing and unsettling novel that captures the zeitgeist of our contemporary realities of the #MeToo movement, looking at the complexities and emotional repercussions of a 'love' affair between a lonely schoolgirl, anxious, suffering the loss of her closest friend, with self esteem issues, desperate for attention, with a much older, manipulative and predatory male who zeroes in on her vulnerabilities. This uncomfortable book examines the psychological and sex ...more
Kim ~ It’s All About the Thrill
I completely underestimated how dark this book was actually going to be. Clearly the title is an indicator. If you didn't catch on from the title, well there is a sensational book description that makes it clear what the subject matter was going to be. Yet....I was still deeply disturbed by what I was reading. I can't stress how dark, disturbing and difficult this was to read. That being said, I could not put this down. I am not even sure I can muster the words to give this book the review that ...more
Lindsay - Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
1.5 stars.

I wish I could somehow unread this disturbing book.

My curiosity got the best of me after reading the countless 5 star reviews. It wasn’t a storyline that appealed to me but I had to see what all the buzz was about. After reading halfway through and feeling like I was missing something, I continued on as my curiosity kept pushing me further and had me thinking “this must get better”. Unfortunately, it didn’t get better after halfway, in fact, it got worse. I finished this novel feeling
Melissa Buehner
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-my-kindle
Take a look at the cover of My Dark Vanessa. (Go on. Look.)

Now, look again. Reeaally look. Longer, this time.

Is it me? Or does the photo not just say it all? Personally, I find the stark image of the woman’s face to be one of the saddest, most hauntingly beautiful photographs I have ever seen. Her melancholy expression instantly grabs one’s attention; her evident pain draws the observer in. It’s stunning – and it so artfully, wordlessly captures the devastating essence of Kate Elizabeth Russell
im really struggling with this rating/review because i dont want anything negative that i say to belittle or disregard someone who is able to relate to this story personally or see themselves in vanessas position.

grooming, predatory behaviour, sexual assault, and victim statements are all topics that are extremely important and should not be taken lightly. i dont want my review or opinion of this work of fiction to be synonymous with how i view these things in real life. because thats not the c
Merphy Napier
My Dark Vanessa was a powerful, difficult, and hopeful story that sheds light on a very important topic. Here's my video review where I discuss it more in spoiler free detail.

In the review, I said I'd talk more about the ending here. So here we go (view spoiler)
Charlotte May
This book broke me open and sucker punched my internal organs.

“He worships me - his dark Vanessa. I’m lucky to have this, to be so loved.”

THIS is how to write a book about an abusive relationship between a grown man and a child. Not Lolita. Lolita can fuck off. (I hated that book - in case you can’t tell.)

Vanessa is 15 years old when she begins a sexual relationship with her 42 year old English teacher Jacob Strane. We read everything that goes on, how he lured her and ultimately entrapped he
Mar 05, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Oh I love me some controversy
Chelsea Humphrey
Sep 11, 2019 marked it as paused-on-hold  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chelsea by: Shannon
Something, although I’m not sure what, is keeping me from sinking into this one, so I think I’ll put this on hold and pick it back up when I feel like I can give it a fair read. In the meantime, my mom can’t seem to put it down, so perhaps it’s for the best and the right person is reading it now. 🤷🏼‍♀️

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
Apr 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
You go in a girl and come out not quite a woman but close, a girl more conscious of herself and her own power. Self-awareness is a good thing. It leads to confidence, knowing one's place in the world. He made me see myself in a way a boy my own age never could. No one can convince me that I would have been better off if I'd been like the other girls at school, giving blow jobs to hand jobs, all that endless labor, before being deemed a slut and thrown away. At least Strane loved me. At l
Mary Beth
1.5 star

I won this book in a Goodreads book giveaway and I was so excited because it was one of my most anticipating reads.

This book was so dark and disturbing. It was one of the most disturbing books that I ever read. This one was way out of my comfort zone. I love books that are dark and disturbing but this one was so unsettling. It stayed with me for a long time and I couldn't get it out of my head. I was so disappointed in this book. This book was not my genre but I saw all the glowing five
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely 5 stars!
This story goes back and forth in time from when Vanessa started attending a boarding school at 15 years of age and has a relationship with her 42 year old English teacher and in her later years when she is a 32 year old adult.
Vanessa had a dark side, kept to herself.. quite a solitary personality. Her teacher paid her a lot of attention and complimented her and loaned out his favorite books to her etc.. she actually started seeking him out, felt special and felt powerful over
Jul 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am trying to put into words my exact feeling right now and I can’t. All I can say is this book is absolutely haunting and terrifying and I had so many moments where I felt shattered and unable to breathe. Please if you’re going to read this book beware because there are a lot of extremely heavy themes that have to do with sexual assault, pedophilia, therapy, grooming, harassment, PTSD, depression and all things along those lines. I don’t know what to even think right now except I don’t think ...more
Emer (A Little Haze)
I am blown away by the powerful nature of this novel. This is one of the best written books I have read in years. Be warned, this book deals with dark subject matter, that of child grooming and protracted sexual abuse.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming du
Brenda - Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
This is the Darkest and most disturbing book I have ever read and I am pretty dark and twisted with what I read. I am not sure if the average reader who doesn't read and review on regular bases is ready for this one. I wasn't ready for it and I read and review some pretty dark books with my Traveling Sisters. It's one to be cautious about going into as the details do not leave you to decide if you want your thoughts to go there or not. The details are pretty clear and those thoughts are put in y ...more
Apr 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“This, I realize, is where it was always going to end. I gave him permission to do the unspeakable things he always craved, offered up my body as the site of the crimes, and he indulged for a while, but in his heart, he’s not a villain. He’s a man who wants to be good…”
- Kate Elizabeth Russell, My Dark Vanessa

“Come and be worshipped, come and be caressed,
My dark Vanessa, crimson-barred, my blest…”

- Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Whatever else can be said about Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanes
May 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: five-stars-books
5 "brutal, honest, excruciating" stars !!!

I do not know what will be typed here. I will move forward and do my best to censor minimally. I will not succeed.

I read this book in small morsels. I could not contain many of my emotions as I read. I ached for Vanessa and the many thousands of teenage girls and boys that fall prey to malignant narcissists and sexual abusers. Unlike Vanessa, we as adult readers know that what happened to her so many times from the age of 15 to well into her twenties s
Chelsea (chelseadolling reads)
I'm not sure how I feel about this one, if I'm being honest. I finished it last week but I am only just now getting around to reviewing it because I wanted to take some time to think about how I feel, but I honestly still don't really know what to say. This book was EXTREMELY well written and I definitely feel like it accomplished what it set out to accomplish, but something about this just didn't fully *click* with me. I think I still need to sit on this one for a bit before I give my ~final~ t ...more
Giorgia ~ Reads
Mar 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
4 Stars

I'm finally writing a review for this.. after a month.

This book left me feeling sad, frustrated, horrified and disgusted.

I haven't read Lolita yet but from the many references in this book, I feel like I got the gist of it. In this novel, Lolita was used as an instrument of deception, control and even justification.

We have a 15-year-old girl away from her family, at a private boarding school. She is a typical teenager, full of insecurities, misplaced anger, and self-righteousness.

Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss-arc-s
This is one of the most horrific books I have ever read. Truly disturbing. I had read and loved Putney last year so I was very much looking forward to this - how weird is that to say considering the subject matter? I'll admit I couldn't read this one straight through. My brain needed to take breaks. I think it's because the depictions of abuse are descriptive and explicit at times and my stomach would lurch at the imagery.

This story is about Vanessa a 15 year old girl who attends boarding schoo
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Kate Elizabeth Russell was born and raised in eastern Maine. She holds an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas. My Dark Vanessa is her debut novel.

Articles featuring this book

Let's face it, this year's class of first-time authors is seeing its debut novels launch into a world much different from what anyone in the...
92 likes · 45 comments
“I can’t lose the thing I’ve held onto for so long, you know?” My face twists up from the pain of pushing it out. “I just really need it to be a love story, you know? I really, really need it to be that.”
“I know,” she says.
“Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it”? I look to her glassy eyes, her face of wide open empathy. “It’s my life,” I say. “This has been my whole life.”
“Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else’s mouth the word turns ugly and absolute. It swallows up everything that happened.” 30 likes
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